No Child Left Behind reduces collaboration among principals, teachers

Principals across the nation have become less collaborative with teachers under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that aimed to reduce the achievement gap in schools with high standards and accountability measures.

That’s a key finding of the research by Douglas Wieczorek, a new assistant professor in the Iowa State University School of Education who studies how educators navigate education reform and change.  

“Principals are more directive and controlling over what professional development is enacted at the school level,” he said. “Teachers are not empowered to direct their own professional development.”

Survey of 22,000 principals

Wieczorek comes to Iowa State this fall after receiving his doctorate from the Syracuse University School of Education. His dissertation used a federal government survey to measure changes in behavior among approximately 22,000 principals across the nation, between 1999 and 2007 under No Child Left Behind.

“In the face of reform and penalties, they’ve taken an approach of ‘I need to fix this’ rather than ‘we need to fix this,’” he said of principals. “They are taking away an important piece of teachers’ self-reflection and professionalism and self-empowerment to direct their own learning.”

That concerns Wieczorek. He said when teachers and principals give power away because of regulations, that makes them unable to find solutions that may best fit their schools. He said for school improvements to take hold long-term, they must come from within.

“The practice that research shows is the most successful is collaboration,” he said. “In the face of pressure, policy, change, reform and regulation, don’t let go of those practices that we know work.”

Wieczorek’s research also shows that the policy effects of No Child Left Behind, aligning professional development with school achievement, had a much greater impact in urban schools than suburban ones. But he said that hasn’t led to greater student achievement.

“National achievement data since the beginning of No Child Left Behind has shown that urban schools are still lagging behind their peers in achievement,” he said. “While the policy effects may be taking hold, the effects are not significantly raising student achievement.”

Wieczorek presented the results of his research earlier this year at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Philadelphia.

Enactment of education reform

Joanne Marshall, an associate professor in the Iowa State University School of Education who’s the program coordinator for educational administration, said Wieczorek’s research offers insight into how education reform actually gets enacted by school leaders.

“What do principals actually do — especially around instructional leadership — when faced with a major reform such as No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top?” she asked.

Wieczorek has already expressed interest in the reforms that are active in Iowa, such as Teacher Leadership legislation and the Iowa Core.

“Doug used mixed methods of research to answer these questions, which is also an appeal for us because it’s more unusual for someone to be talented with both kinds of methodology,” Marshall said. “He can run sophisticated analyses of big data sets and he can interview people and he can conduct autoethnography.”

Other research by Wieczorek has shown that school reform such as Race to the Top is having personal effects on principals and teachers — increasing stress, decreasing morale and affecting health as the educators view new evaluations as a threat to their professionalism, knowledge, and expertise.

Wieczorek is a former director of field experience and school partnerships at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland. He’s also a former assistant principal of a private, Catholic high school. This fall, he is teaching an introduction to educational research course to students seeking their master’s degrees.


Douglas Wieczorek, assistant professor, School of Education, Iowa State University, 515-294-3265,

Joanne Marshall, associate professor, program coordinator in educational administration, School of Education, Iowa State University, 515-294-9995,

Lynn Campbell, communications specialist, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-3689,